Golgamjoo is a beverage made from local grains like barley and glutinous millet. “Gol” is an old Korean word still used on Jeju Island to mean “malt.” To make gol, unhulleded barley in soaked in water overnight, then left in a well-ventilated, shaded, warm place, with water added frequently. After two to three days, the barley will start to sprout. After a week, the barley will be 3-4mm in length, and at this point it is placed in the sun to dry. When the barley is dry, it is ground it into a coarse flour and stored in a dry place.
Next, locally grown glutinous millet (called “gaebalsiri”) and native rye are boiled into a watery mush. Once cool, it is mixed with additional water and the previously prepared gol. After six to seven hours, t he mixture will begin to sweeten as the mixture ferments. The mixture is then poured into a cotton bag and pressed. The extracted liquid is cooked over low heat until it reduces, and then once cooled it is stored for later consumption.
Due to stony soil and volcanic ash, rice farming is impossible on Jeju Island, and so instead barley, millet and buckwheat are staple crops. Products like grain alcohol and rice cakes, which are commonly made from rice in Korea, have been made from these crops in Jeju. In particular, only people from Jeju Island use millet powder to produce their local alcohol. Golgamju made from glutinous millet has a unique taste and a texture that is thicker than sikhae, a similar drink made from rice. Golgamju is a distinctive beverage, specific to the local culture in Jeju. However, production of these particular grains has been in decline since the 1970s, and nearly nonexistent since 2000.
Golgamjoo is known locally as an alcohol that is placed on ceremonial tables to pay respect to ancestors on traditional Korean holidays. In the 1970s, most people in Jeju used golgamjoo at their ceremonial tables. Even until the 1980s, many homes made golgamjoo for holidays. It is believed that the history of golgamjoo goes along with that of memorial services held for ancestors. While production of omegi-sul (another local beverage) is believed to have started 800 years ago, production of golgamjoo is believed to have started much earlier than this. However, current production is limited to a small number of elderly individuals mostly living in rural areas who continue to make it for traditional holiday celebrations.
Since 1970s, people have opted for the convenience of purchasing alcohol from the market for ceremonial services as opposed to brewing at home. Additionally, as imported rice became more available people began to make sikhae from rice instead of golgamjoo from glutinous millet. Furthermore, native glutinous millet, the main ingredient of golgamjoo, has not been frequently planted since the end of 1980s due to the availability of cheaper Chinese millet. Therefore even if people want to make golgamjoo with native ingredients they are unable to do so. As a result, Golgamjoo, a once common food that people enjoyed in the past, remains only in the memories of elderly people and on the ceremonial tabled of the few people who still know how to make it at home. If this situation continues, within a generation golgamjoo will completely disappear.